The Dysart Woods Laboratory is located in unglaciated southeastern Ohio. In contrast to the glaciated part of the state this area is characteristically hilly with local relief exceeding 200 feet. The sedimentary bedrock throughout the region is composed mostly of sandstone and shale with coal seams occurring variably from near the surface to hundreds of feet underground. The rainfall and temperature conditions are generally well suited for the development of deciduous forests. Dysart Woods, a 50-acre tract of old-growth oak forest located in Belmont County, is the largest known remnant of the original forest of southeastern Ohio.
The forests in this region have been classified generally as mixed mesophytic deciduous forest. The cool, moist ravines and the upland slopes form habitats which support great diversity in the species composing the forests. Mixed oak forests were extensive throughout southeastern Ohio in presettlement times. Lumbering, farming, mining, and other activities have changed the composition of the natural vegetation. Today the southeastern region is the most extensively forested in Ohio, and there remain only a few large trees which suggest the magnificence of these original forests.
Dysart Woods Laboratory located on the 455-acre Dysart Farm, is divided into two almost equal tracts situated in ravines separated by a broad ridge. Many species of trees grow in these ravines, but the oaks which have developed during 300 years' time are the most spectacular. Some are over four feet in diameter and stand 140 feet high.
Through the centuries the trees and other vegetation, the soil, and associated generations of animals have lived and died with very little disturbance. An occasional log was obviously removed from a damaged or windthrown tree, but for the most part the woods qualify as a virgin forest.
Such a forest presents a rare opportunity for study. Ohio University has preserved the woods by keeping it in its natural state. That is, no cutting of trees will be permitted and fallen logs remain to decompose and thus continue the never-ending cycling of minerals through successive generations of plants. The Department of Environmental and Plant Biology conducts studies of the woods and surrounding fields to learn more about the dynamics of a mature oak ecosystem. Research will be done in such a way as to leave intact the ecology of the forest. Through classes, guided tours, and published research, the University shares its knowledge of the forest to enable students and visitors to understand better the world in which we live.
Dysart Woods exists today as an old-growth forest because several generations of the Dysart family kept it in its natural state. The splendor of the forest, formerly enjoyed by only a few, now has become available to many. Ohio University, by agreement with The Nature Conservancy, has undertaken the responsibility of preserving this outstanding remnant of the magnificent forests that once covered much of Ohio and eastern United States. The recognition of Dysart Woods as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior underscores the importance of preserving it. Visitors are welcome in the woods and adjacent areas which are used for continuing educational research programs.
Because natural ecosystems such as Dysart Woods are easily destroyed by carelessness, we ask your cooperation in preserving it. While visiting the woods, please remain on the trails and do not pick flowers or in any way destroy the vegetation. No smoking is permitted in the area. Picnicking facilities are available at the nearby Barkcamp State Park located a short distance east of Belmont.
To establish Dysart Woods as a site that will forever be preserved and as a natural laboratory, Ohio University has established a fund to provide operating funds for stewardship of the property. We invite you to share with us in the Dysart Woods project. Gifts of all sizes are encouraged. Checks may be made payable to Ohio University Fund - Dysart Woods Laboratory and mailed to Ohio University Fund, P.O. Box 869, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio 45701-0869.
A recent issue of Forum Magazine (Volume 13, Number 1, March 1996), which is available through the College of Arts and Sciences Home Page, had as its cover story, "Lessons About Life and Death Learned at Dysart Woods."
To learn more about the ecology of Ohio's old-growth forests see "Eastern Old-Growth Forests" by Brian C. McCarthy. This information is a reprint (with additional graphics) of an article originally appearing in The Ohio Woodland Journal.
To learn more about pioneer life in the back woods of Belmont County see "Ohio revisited: Belmont County, Part 14 -- Life in the Woods near St. Clairsville" by John S. Williams.
Directions to Dysart Woods: Take Belmont exit off I-70. Proceed south toward the town of Belmont on highway 149. In Belmont, turn off 149 and on to highway 147 heading south. Drive south approximately 5 miles. A small wooden Dysart sign on the right indicates the entrance to the property. Rustic restrooms are located adjacent to the white farmhouse on the left. Parking is available at the trailheads.
For more information contact:
Brian C. McCarthy
Environmental and Plant Biology
Porter Hall 317
Athens, OH 45701-2979